Though only separated by 500 miles of tarmac, Silicon Valley and Death Valley might as well be different planets. One is dry, desolate, soulless. The other is a desert of pristine beauty and a reminder that, in the end, we are all bit players on the movie set of Planet Earth. After unplugging from my daily life, re-entry is always hard. This is especially when coming back from a photo trip, where I am immersed in the act of trying to interpret the moment. In 2019, it is safe to say that I became an interpretive photographer – not a documentarian.
So perhaps that is why I was a little disappointed by my visit to the Death Valley National Park. It turns out that it isn’t in my photographic sweet spot. I am biased towards colder climes — snow and mountain peaks, fog and sea, and ruthless minimalism. The harsh light, the hazy vistas, and the washed-out colors don’t make me happy. Instead of trying to make those flat colors sing, I opted to go monochrome. That turned out to be a good decision, and it has made culling, curating, and editing the photos relatively easy. I made more than 250 photos over the past three days. Using my own scale applied to Lightroom’s star ranking system, I would say about 50 qualify as “one-stars” and about 14 are “two stars.”
To give you an idea of my own metrics, one star is not embarrassing and has all the ingredients of a decent photo: composition, decent exposure and is not blurred. Two stars ranking is a bit special in terms of what I compose and is worth sharing with friends and family. Three stars and above are okay for public consumption and form the underpinning for what I think could become my idea of reality. I need to narrow them down to 10. Even then, it is highly unlikely that any of them will be in my portfolio because I am not seeing much room for interpretation.
If my photography experience was less than stellar, at least the long stretches of the road and the sitting in the shade during the hot afternoons provided a great opportunity to reflect and do some journaling. I kept thinking about how so much of my writing ends up being done in longhand in a private place, which is mostly a reflection of my growing reticence to deal with what has become of the public discourse. Even though blogging is my main jam, it is hard to not be aware of the level of vitriol that comes at those having an opinion. It can be corrosive to the spirit. I saw this recent dustup around the technology industry and the media earlier this week, and all I can say is: It is good not to be in the media business — or should I say, in the media game? I have some thoughts, but I am going to keep them to myself. There is enough preening (see: content marketing) going on.
A few weeks back, I was catching up with Craig Mod, who makes a living writing a paid newsletter. It is great to see him become the embodiment of his friend (Wired founding editor and writer extraordinaire) Kevin Kelly’s 1,000-true fans philosophy. During our conversation, I shared my own resistance to writing in a world that is drowning in words. It can feel like pouring water into the dead sea. Mod’s take surprised me. He said to basically forget about what is in the world, and to focus inward and look at what’s important to one’s self. Let the writing be about your inner thoughts and your interests. Let it be about what drives your soul and your thinking. After all, that is the only value I can bring to the internet, crowded as it is with opinions.
This is a good time as any to plug my newsletter, which delivers the posts directly to your inbox, once or twice a week.
The break in Death Valley was a chance to reflect — and I returned with a to-do list. For starters, I am not going to be linking to any external articles, with the occasional exception for articles that are particularly meaningful. Reading should be a distraction-free experience. (You might occasionally find some recommendations that are worthy of your time added as a footnote at the end of a post). And yes, after a long hiatus, I am reviving the Pico interview series. Once a month is my goal for 2020.
Okay, back to life and reading about how Apple and the rest of the technology industry is dealing with the coronavirus. What if this is the unintended reset to what, at times, has felt like a bubble environment in techland?
February 18, 2020. San Francisco